West Geauga Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Markwardt and Tim Delvecchio of the Ohio Schools Security Council (OSSC) presented plans to the West Geauga Board of Education last week to improve building security and responses to incidents such as April 3, when a student brought a loaded gun to school.
The plans also dealt with ways to identify and intervene with at-risk youth before violence occurs.
“Obviously, we had an event on April 3 that caused us to renew focus on this, but it’s not a focus that’s just started up. It’s a focus that we’ve been looking at for some time,” Dr. Markwardt said.
On April 3, a West Geauga High School student carried a gun in his backpack into the school, but his plan to shoot several students later that morning were thwarted after a classmate notified staff that he had found a bullet in a bathroom.
A West Geauga Schools security consultant since 2015, Mr. Delvecchio began by detailing the district’s safety compliance elements, including its emergency operations plan.
Every district in Ohio is required by law to have an emergency operations plan that covers physical threats of violence, natural disasters and medical emergencies, he said.
Saying that he put the school district in his “Platinum Club” because of its “good ideas,” he later clarified that the comment was in regard to West Geauga’s relationship with local law enforcement and its tendency to adopt new requirements for emergency operations plans.
This includes the district’s completion of Behavioral Threat Assessment training, a new state requirement.
West Geauga completed it under the Comprehensive School Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) program, which Mr. Delvecchio explained is “the gold standard.”
However, Mr. Delvecchio made it clear that the CSTAG concept does not include returning students with information of the potential threat to the general population of the student body before secure action such as shelter in place or lock-down occurs due to increased risk.
This is what happened April 3, when the boy who found the bullet as well as others interviewed were sent back to class as the investigation continued.
While this could be perceived as a procedural failure by administration, Mr. Delvecchio emphasized that in these situations, everyone is responding in the moment.
Mr. Delvecchio briefly touched on House Bill 123, which aims to create a “See Something, Say Something” culture through anonymous tip lines in school districts.
West Geauga has an anonymous tip line in place, and, as Mr. Delvecchio pointed out, the student’s actions on April 3 upon seeing the bullet indicated the “see something, say something” culture exists there as well.
Reviewing the school district’s current security technology and funding, Dr. Markwardt discussed expanding to year-round the West Geauga High School School Resource Officer position and said the district is looking to enhance that presence for next year.
Dr. Markwardt went over the mental health resources available in the schools, including agencies such as Ravenwood and the Geauga County Crisis team, although the Geauga LOSS team – which offers post-incident support – stated that the district rejected its April 3 offer to respond to students and staff.
Additionally, the thousands of dollars of school security updates such as cameras and door locks that had been addressed at previous meetings as well as in a letter to parents was mentioned. The district is choosing among three companies to replace the current phone and public address systems it plans to install over the summer.
Chester Township Police Chief Craig Young reiterated his department’s commitment to school safety and his optimism for improved relationships with the district.
“School safety is so important to us because we understand what our schools are. It’s the most vulnerable part of a community. We’re passionate about it. But beyond that, the relationship that we have with our schools is unlike anything I’ve probably ever seen in my years of law enforcement,” explained Chief Young.
He said that when he went to the superintendent at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, they began brainstorming about how to “do it better.’”
“To see the passion that he had for school safety really drove me,” Chief Young said. “I can’t say how impressed I was with how they looked at us, and said, ‘How do we get this done? How do we get this accomplished?’”
Though the district is compliant with state requirements and has completed CSTAG training, concerns exist among the school board.
Board member Bill Beers noted that for over 20 years, since the Columbine High School shootings, school policy prohibits students from carrying their bags during the school day. The board asked how Brandon Morrissette was carrying the gun and his backpack on April 3.
Mr. Beers said no one seems to know why or when the policy stopped being enforced.
Since April 3, the policy is once again being enforced, but Dr. Markwardt dismissed Mr. Beers’ inquiry as to how to ensure it will remain enforced.
The board was also concerned by remarks from parents later in the meeting that the school district trains staff on just one specific aspect of the emergency plan each year.
This means that a new staff member could go years without training for the active shooter scenario.
Parents also revealed that district staff has not been trained for an active shooter response under ALICE (Alert, lock-down, inform, counter, evacuate) or a similar program.
At the end of the meeting, Christina Sherwood stated that one of two ALICE-trained officers in the Chesterland Police Department will hired as the West Geauga High School Resource Officer, and that both officers will conduct ALICE training for school staff.
She offered no timeline for the training.
After the meeting, upon being asked when staff last received emergency operations training for an April 3-type situation, and how frequently students drill for an April 3-type situation, Dr. Markwardt stated that West Geauga is compliant in its reporting and safety training practices.
“We do not discuss the specifics of that training with anyone outside of our district and local emergency responders,” he said.
Active shooter response training such as ALICE is not required for school staff under Ohio law and is not considered when determining if a district is compliant in its reporting and practices, said Mr. Delvecchio.
He went on to explain one aspect of this program’s guidelines, which notes that overreaction to a potential threat can put a school at risk, which is partly why West Geauga High School administrators chose to wait on April 3 for over an hour to “shelter in place.”
Read an interview with Casey Orloski, who found the bullet in the West Geauga High School bathroom on April 3, at chagrinvalley
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